I nearly ruined a relationship with a counselee. I want to share the lessons I learned from my mistake and share a testimony of God’s grace to bring reconciliation.
All of us value the friendships which develop through counseling relationships. Just as with any deep Christian friendship, they are built on mutual love for the Lord and His Word.1 For more on Christ-centered friendship, pre-order When Words Matter Most: Truth with Grace to Those You Love by Cheryl Marshall and Caroline Newheiser. Often life-long bonds are formed as the counselor walks with a friend through the most difficult experiences of her life. These special friendships can be jeopardized by an insensitive or careless word. What can a counselor learn in order to prevent misunderstandings and how can she repair damaged feelings?
I found myself in the position of needing to repair a friendship which could have been broken by my careless words. This treasured friendship grew in my counseling office a few years ago. My friend and I became close as we worked through a painful life circumstance together. The tissue box was passed around a few times among the two of us and my observer. When my friend graduated from counseling, I figuratively and literally left my door open for her to call when she needed to talk again. Recently, I received a text asking for a conversation. Before we had a chance to speak, I shared part of her text with a mutual friend, a section which I thought was public knowledge. I didn’t realize that the information was meant to be kept private. Later, I found out that my dear friend had been hurt that I let someone else know the contents of her text. I was crushed. People-pleasing fears rose up in my heart. I was afraid that my friend would no longer trust me and that our friendship was irreparably broken. Here is what I learned:
- Move quickly towards the offended person. When I found out that my friend was hurt, my husband urged me to call her immediately. I wondered, “Should I call? Would I just be stirring up more problems? What will I say?” I knew that Matthew 5:23-24 applied in this situation: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” The need to pursue reconciliation is so great that it comes before offering gifts in worship. I realized that I should call her as soon as possible.
- Speaking in person is best. I could have sent an email or a text but I knew that personal communication facilitates understanding.2 See Jim Newheiser’s blog: https://ibcd.org/talk-to-me-dont-text-me/ The give and take of conversation allowed her to hear my heart and helped me understand her feelings. I quickly grasped why my comments had impacted her. I hadn’t seen her perspective until she explained it to me. The truth in Proverbs 18:13 struck me: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” We both followed James 1:19— “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”
- Assume the best of the other person. I know that my friend is gracious and forgiving. Philippians 4:8 teaches me to focus on the things which are worthy of praise. Also, the verse, “love hopes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7) directs me to expect a righteous response. In fact, when she answered my call, my friend immediately said with a chuckle, “I know why you’re calling.” Before I could say anything else, she said, “I forgive you!” What a joy to experience reconciliation which reflects how God has reconciled us with Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18).
- Be humble. I was glad to admit my fault to my dear friend, but her gracious response made it easy. I experienced the blessing of asking for forgiveness and being granted forgiveness. The Lord truly gives more grace. He “opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). We don’t go wrong when we approach each other with humility.
My friend also went through some steps on her part which made our reconciliation so smooth. She told me that she “talked herself down” when she began to be upset with me. In other words, she battled her hurt with biblical truth, rather than her emotions. She even spoke Scripture out loud! This helped her to take her thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). She also was quick to overlook my sin. She covered it with love (Proverbs 19:11) and forgave as she had been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32).
My friend later told me that this misunderstanding felt as if the enemy was trying to discourage her, telling her that she can’t trust anyone. It seemed like a tangible spiritual battle. The enemy is a liar (John 8:44) and loves to divide believers from one another. Our relationship is a threat to him and his constant schemes. But God is good. My friend writes, “Praise the Lord that the Holy Spirit was speaking to us both and that the door [to sin] was shut so quickly!”3 Referring to the Lord’s words to Cain in Genesis 4:7, “And if you do not do well sin is crouching at the door.”
In conclusion, my regret over my careless words quickly faded away into gratefulness and love for my friend. The experience of offering and receiving forgiveness has drawn us even closer together. My door has remained open to future dialogue. Thankfully, I learned some important lessons which will improve my counseling and benefit others.